Table of Contents

  • What is cast iron?
  • The pros and cons of cast iron
  • What to cook—and not cook—in cast iron
  • Cast iron FAQs

Here we tackle the basics of cast iron, as well as answer the most common questions about cooking with this powerhouse. We're also including a few of our favorite cast iron recipes that you can cook at home or outdoors.

What is cast iron?

Cast iron is a material known for its high heat capacity, natural non-stick abilities, and durability. It's been around for ages, and with good reason—it's a stellar performer when it comes to searing, braising, roasting, baking, and frying.

What separates cast iron from other cookware is that it's one of a few kitchen tools that gets better with age and regular use. While other cookware that's been coated or tin-lined, for example, needs to be discarded or re-tinned, cast iron is nearly indestructible.

Cast iron is made by melting iron, steel, and other elements and pouring them into a sand mold. When the mold is cracked open, a truly versatile cooking vessel emerges that will, no doubt, become an essential tool in your kitchen.

Today, most factory-made cast iron pans do not go through the additional smoothing process once favored by vintage American-made hand cast iron producers such as Griswold and Wagner. However, Field Company is reviving yesteryear practices to produce smoother, lighter cast iron skillets.

The pros and cons of cast iron

When you cook with cast iron, you're bound to discover unique traits when preparing your favorite recipe, but here are a few of cast iron's specialties.

Pros

Boasts superior heat retention. No other metal holds heat like cast iron. Dropping a big juicy steak on it won't cause the pan's temperature to drop! That's also the reason cast iron is favored for frying.

Has a natural non-stick surface that doesn't need to be replaced, just maintained.

Works on all stovetops—including gas, induction, and glass top—as well as on the grill or over a campfire. Most copper and aluminum cookware, on the other hand, will not work on induction cooktops.

Easily transitions from the stovetop to the broiler, oven, grill, or campfire. You certainly can't say that about tech-coated non-stick cookware.

It's durable and timeless. These virtually indestructible skillets are built to last a lifetime, making them your ideal kitchen partner.

Cons

And, now, the so-called “cons” of cast iron. While pointing out a few drawbacks, we offer easy solutions to help you get the best out of your cooking experience with cast iron.

First, let's clear the air: using cast iron takes a little time and requires a slight learning curve. But that can hardly be considered a con anymore than maintaining one's dental hygiene to prevent trips to the dentist.

Maintaining cast iron takes (some) effort. Cast iron maintenance—which is a simple, straightforward process—is no different than taking care of your other kitchen tools. It's just three easy steps: 1) clean with water, 2) dry well, and 3) coat with oil. Done! We get into more details in our Cast Iron & Maintenance Guide.

Cast iron takes longer to heat up. Absolutely true! Cast iron is a dense material that conducts heat rather slowly, and hence, needs time to get hot, but when it does, it retains heat like nothing else, even when removed from the heat source.

Cast iron is heavy. Sometimes! While many cast iron skillets are heavy, Field Company uses old-school production methods to painstakingly make the lightest cast iron cookware on the market.

Cast iron doesn't distribute heat evenly. With cast iron, heat distribution is tied to the heat source. If you put a large pan over a small burner, it won't heat evenly. To assure even heat distribution and avoid hot spots, it helps to match your pan's size to your burner's. There is a sound reason why cast iron griddles are meant to go over two stovetop burners.

What to cook—and not cook—in cast iron

Cast iron is extremely versatile, and you can really let your culinary imagination run wild. Still, you'll want to limit some practices, at least for a while until you build up your seasoning. Cooking consistently with your cast iron will help strengthen the seasoning and allow you to take some liberties like boiling water and cooking with acids.

Again, the aim is to limit exposure to acidic foods such as citrus, vinegar, tomatoes, and wine. The general consensus that such foods should be avoided when cooking with cast iron is a bit outdated. Let's clarify, however.

It's true that, with extended and prolonged exposure, acids can break down seasoning. It's important to know that seasoning is bonded to the pan—that is, it doesn’t come off easily. That means occasional and brief interaction with acidic foods—to make a shakshuka for brunch, for example, or to throw in a few cherry tomatoes as you finish your salmon steak—won't do any harm. Nor will a quick deglaze with wine.

You should, however, avoid using cast iron to cook your grandmother's tomato sauce, which requires hours and hours of simmering.

The list of what you can cook in cast iron is really, really long, so here's just a sample of the culinary feats you can achieve with cast iron:

Picture-perfect brown sear on a steak

Sizzling chicken (skin)

Flaky pie crust

A fluffy Dutch baby

A chewy, golden-crust pizza

Gooey-center, crispy edge skillet cookie

Creamy braised beans

Baked pasta

A cornucopia of caramelized, braised, or roasted veggies

Crusty Dutch oven bread

Cast Iron FAQs

Let’s answer some of the more common questions about using, caring for, and cooking with cast iron.

1.

Why is cast iron so heavy?

Cast iron is prized for its extraordinary thermal density—the ability to retain heat—and to do that, it needs to have a place to store and distribute that heat. Iron's density allows it to withstand super-high temperatures and continue to radiate heat once removed from the source. Heft is cast iron's key feature, so without it, it won't do what it's meant to, like searing strip steak, for example.

Likewise, cast iron's heavier build results in its durability to withstand a lifetime of use.

However, Field Company is challenging the notion that cast iron has to be heavy, bulky, and uncomfortable to handle to be heat-efficient and strong.

For example, our 6 ¾-inch cast iron skillet weighs under 2 pounds. Our 10 ¼-inch is just 4.5 pounds, considerably lower than other cast iron skillets of that size. To lose the extra bulk, Field skillets are machined and polished to make them lighter, smoother, and easier to maneuver.

2.

Why are cast iron skillets so expensive?

In recent years, vintage cast iron pans have seen a huge spike in interest. People are going to great lengths to track down old beauties made by classic brands like Griswold and Wagner in online bidding wars, at yard and estate sales, or rummaging in grandma's attic. Why? Superior production levels.

Vintage pans were first hand poured into molds, carefully cooled, and then smoothed and polished by hand. The results were lighter, slicker, smoother cast iron skillets. Because these pans were so well made and cast iron is a durable material, many pieces have been restored and enjoy second lives in contemporary kitchens. And, yes, sourcing and restoring a vintage cast iron pan can get expensive.

The revived interest in vintage cast iron cookware has sparked a wave of craft cast iron forges—we stand proudly among them—who are creating a new generation of cast iron skillets using old production methods. Field skillets are machined and polished by hand. This not only removes uneven textures, but it also reduces extra weight and improves the overall form, giving cooking enthusiasts a cast iron skillet that is light, smooth, and ergonomic.

You can get inexpensive good-quality cast iron pans. However, mass-produced skillets do not go through the extra polishing process and tend to be heavier, with a grainy, porous surface that can’t compete with handcrafted cast iron.

While we are on the question of price, it's worthwhile to note that when you buy a new-generation cast iron craft piece, you will be buying it for a lifetime.

Here is a comparison: A good quality non-stick skillet (PTFE coated over stainless steel or hard-anodized aluminum) is not cheap; on the low end, you are looking at at least $30 to $40. If you use your skillet carefully—no overheating, only using silicone and wood utensils, washing with a soft sponge—you will need to replace them every 3 to 5 years. If you are rough or begin to see nicks and scratches, you could be replacing them every 1 to 3 years.

Cast iron is virtually indestructible; we can pretty much guarantee that you won't be replacing it in your lifetime.

In the end, when you buy a high-quality, American-made cast iron skillet that has gone the extra step of bringing it closer to its prized ancestors, you are making a very sound investment.

3.

Is cast iron non-stick?

A resounding yes! Cast iron is a viable alternative to chemically coated cookware. Here is another thing: most cast iron cookware on the market today comes pre-seasoned—meaning the initial seasoning process in which a layer of oil is heated high enough to form a polymer coating, a thick patina that, with continued seasoning, produces a richer non-stick surface. In other words, you can take advantage of cast-iron's non-stick surface right out of the box.

A proper seasoning protects the cookware from rusting and provides a non-stick surface for cooking. Despite what you might hear, minimal upkeep is required to maintain cast iron's non-stick quality; take a look at our Cast Iron Seasoning Guide.

Here's a little secret: for cast iron to become and stay non-stick, you have to cook on it regularly. That is hardly a task. Once you start searing, roasting, frying, and baking on your cast iron, you won't need a special occasion to season it.

4.

Is Cast Iron good for health?

As we mentioned, cast iron reduces interaction with potentially harmful elements often found in chemically coated surfaces. It's not uncommon for folks to ruin their tech-coated skillets by overheating them or using the wrong utensils, causing nicks and chips in the coating that can be ingested. There is no danger of chemicals leaching into your food with cast iron; neither is there a risk of overheating—cast iron can safely exceed temperatures of 500º F on a stovetop, oven, or under the broiler.

5.

What is special about cast iron?

Apart from the long list of already mentioned benefits, good cast iron has an heirloom quality that can be shared with and passed on to your loved ones. To cook in cast iron is to connect to a lifestyle that prizes taking a step back to thoughtfully prepare meals you can be proud of.

If that doesn't convince you, we dare you to find cookware that sears steaks like cast iron!

6.

How long does cast iron work for?

So few things in life are forever, but cast iron is of those rare things that is. A properly used (by which we mean oft-used) and seasoned cast iron skillet will last your lifetime as well as that of your children and very likely your children's children.